If you are a Jewish woman struggling with infertility, technological and medical advances have provided you with a lot of options in recent decades. But if you are looking to have a Jewish child, the road ahead may be a little bumpier than you think.
Jewish egg donors are some of the most sought-after donors in the U.S. The combination of high infertility rates and few fully Jewish donors means that some couples may have to sit on waiting lists for months or more or consider shelling out mega-bucks to find a donor privately. A brief Google search returns links to ads offering upward of $10,000 and $12,000 for Jewish ovum.
At Shady Grove Fertility Center, the largest fertility center in the country, practice liaison Patricia Inman says many families must reconcile their dream of having a fully Jewish child with a stark reality.
“We try to be honest and set the expectation that, you know what, the sun, moon and stars could align tomorrow and we could get a 100 percent Jewish donor, and there’s going to be 15 to 20 Jewish couples waiting for that one donor,” said Inman. At Shady Grove, egg recipients are encouraged to consider half-Jewish donors in order to better their odds of finding a match. “You’re going to get pregnant sooner if you come to terms with just one parent being Jewish,” she said.
For some couples, this brings with it another set of challenges. Some denominations believe Judaism can be both matrilineal and patrilineal, but many view it as strictly matrilineal. This means that if a donor is half-Jewish on her father’s side, the child may not be considered to be Jewish by birth.
It violates Shady Grove’s, and many other fertility centers’ policy to allow contact between donors and egg recipients, so potential recipients have to navigate this religious and personal challenge without the option of meeting with the donor to discuss their religious background. Many clients decide to seek advice from their rabbi or other support network. Inman recalls one set of potential parents who flew their rabbi in from Canada to meet with the donor to help them decide whether to accept eggs from a half-Jewish donor. She said the family eventually decided to proceed with the donation.
Another option couples have involves finding an Israeli or other foreign donor through an international agency.
In July, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved an amendment doubling the payment Israeli egg donors receive to NIS 20,000 ($5,600), all of which is provided by the state.
Ruth Tavor has been working with Jewish donors for more than 11 years. She became involved in the donation process as an egg recipient, but she and her husband now operate NY LifeSpring, a company they founded to help connect Jewish potential parents with Jewish donors, many of whom are Israeli.
“It’s a journey,” Tavor said of the invitro fertilization process.
Each donor application is scrutinized and each donor goes through a long selection process until NY LifeSpring determines the donor is a good fit. In the end, Tavor said, only about one out of every 30 applicants is accepted.
She estimates her company helps about 50 clients conceive every year, and there are always more people seeking eggs than she has donors available.
“The pressure [to have a child] is incredible” in the Jewish community, said Lea Davidson, executive director of Puah Institute, an online organization that treats infertility according to Jewish law. “Most of Jewish life revolves around the kids. … It’s so kids-related we don’t really realize it until we pay attention.”
For more than two decades, since the group first began to look into the practice of in-vitro fertilization, Puah has been offering guidance and counselling to Jews looking to overcome infertility.
Many men and women who contact the group believe there is some greater religious reason why they are unable to conceive, said Davidson.
“I think that it’s important for the Jewish public to know that there would never be a religious reason not to be able to have a baby,” she said. “There are ways to deal with it.”